WS4: Language contact & Bantu prosodic systems

Workshop 4: The influence of language contact on Bantu prosodic systems


Laura J. Downing (University of Göteborg)

Maarten Mous (University of Leiden)


Bantu languages have been in contact with non-Bantu (and Bantu) neighbors for centuries, and contact has clearly influenced aspects of the grammar of many Bantu languages. For example, it is well established that Cushitic languages have influenced the vocabularies, at least, of neighboring Bantu languages like Ma’a/Mbugu, Ilwana and Chimwiini (Nurse 2000). The most well-known example, that of Ma'a/Mbugu (Mous 2003), spoken in Tanzania, shows that contact can have a pervasive influence on the lexicon and parts of the grammar. However, there exists almost no work systematically investigating the effect of contact on the prosodic systems of Bantu languages.

What work there is, provides a rather simplistic account of the effect of contact on prosodic systems. For example, Salmons (1992: 56) has proposed that when tonal languages (like most Bantu languages are) come into contact with non-tonal languages, tone usually yields to stress, passing through a pitch-accent stage. This is the scenario proposed for Swahili, which is now a stress language, and was in intense contact with Omani Arabic, a stress language, at a formative stage. Philippson (1993) considers Chimwiini a possible version of the pitch-accent stage that preceded stress accent in Swahili, but the grammatically-conditioned position of accent found in Chimwiini (Kisseberth & Abasheikh 2004) shows that the path of development from tone to pitch to stress is not as uniform as work like Salmons (1992) proposes.

This workshop invites papers which will address the following questions:

  • What are the implications of contact prosody for typology and diachrony of prosodic systems?

  • Can contact change the type of prosodic system of a languages (i.e., from tone to stress or from one pitch accent type to another)?

  • Is there a “natural” direction of change that is revealed in contact situations?

  • How can the influence of contact be distinguished from other factors affecting prosodic change?


Kisseberth, Charles W. & Mohammed I. Abasheikh. 2004. The Chimwiini lexicon exemplified. Tokyo: ILCAA.

Nurse, Derek. 2000. Inheritance, contact and change in two East African languages. Köln: Köppe.

Philippson, Gérard. 1993. Tone (and stress) in Sabaki. In Derek Nurse & Thomas J. Hinnebusch (eds.), Swahili and Sabaki: A linguistic history, 248-265. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Salmons, Joe. 1992. Accentual change and language contact. London: Routledge.

Van Coetsem, Frans. 1988. Loan phonology and the two transfer types in language contact. Dordrecht: Foris.
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